08 February, 2006

A Left Jab At Hillary - Jonathan Tasini's Anti-War Campaign

Jonathan Tasini. The name might not ring a bell, but Tasini hopes to strike a chord with New Yorkers opposed to the war in Iraq.

Tasini has joined the battle against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

The 49-year-old activist has spent most of his adult life fighting to organize and represent workers in a variety of businesses. Now he has turned his attention to getting the U.S. out of Iraq and has put the issue at the forefront of his bid for the Senate.

Frustrated by Democrats who have made vague calls for withdrawal in small increments and over long periods of time, Tasini is advocating "immediate, complete withdrawal." And while he concedes that it would be impossible to bring 140,000 troops home tomorrow, he said the U.S. must "make the policy decision today and then don't spend another dime on offensive action" in Iraq. "All expenditures from this day forward should be to withdraw our troops as quickly as possible while maintaining their safety."

Tasini's view on Iraq sharply contrasts that of Sen. Clinton, who is calling for a gradual withdrawal of troops beginning this year, with some being left behind at peripheral locations where they can provide a quick-strike force if necessary.

Tasini says the main arguments against immediate withdrawal from Iraq are "myths." Chief among those myths is that a pullout would lead to civil war in Iraq. Tasini argues that a civil war - created by the U.S.- is already underway in Iraq, and a pullout by the U.S. now would allow the minority Sunni insurgents to participate in the government without fear of being branded as traitors to the Sunni cause.

The candidate also rejects the argument that U.S. withdrawal would make Iraq a haven for terrorists. "Guess what," he said, "that barn door has already been opened."

Tasini also rejects the argument that America would lose credibility around the world by pulling out, saying we have already done that by starting the war in the first place. But, Tasini is adamant that the U.S. is not without some obligation to Iraqis.

"We have an obligation from a monetary standpoint to restore Iraq," he said. "We destroyed the country and we have a moral obligation to rebuild it. The situation in Iraq obviously is not pretty, but for every day our military stays there we are making it worse."

And, while Tasini agrees that the presence of a democratic regime in the heart of the Middle East would be a good thing, "what you are seeing in Iraq now, and what is forming there, is not a real democracy," he argues.

Further, he says, "I think it is presumptuous of us to assume that everyone should copy our form of democracy. And some aspects of our democracy in particular might not be a good model to build on. For example, our system of elections and its reliance on money from special interests is not really an example of democracy at its best."

The war is not the only issue driving Tasini's campaign. He advocates dismantling the current health care system and replacing it with Medicare for all. "Cradle-to-grave" coverage, he calls it. Tasini said about 2 percent to 4 percent of Medicare's expenses go to cover overhead, while about 20 percent of expenditures by private health care companies go for administration, including executive pay and advertising.

Under Tasini's health care plan, employers would contribute to the universal coverage and employees would pay a payroll tax of "a couple of percent." But, he argued, both employers and workers would find that the amount of money they are spending overall on health care would be "significantly reduced."

He acknowledges that reforming health care will be a tough nut, as Sen. Clinton found out in the early years of the Bill Clinton administration. But, he says there's a reason that attempt at health care reform failed.

"The reason my opponent was unsuccessful was because she was unwilling to take on the drug companies and insurance providers. We have to take health care out of the hands of the profiteers and leeches who are making their money at the expense of people's health."

Tasini also is proposing a national retirement program to augment Social Security. Under Tasini's universal voluntary accounts plan, employers would be required to contribute a minimum of three percent of wages and employees could also make voluntary contributions. Rather than creating individual accounts for each worker, Tasini proposes the plan would provide a benefit at retirement based on each worker's contribution to the plan, age at retirement and years in the program. By pulling everyone's contribution, he argues, the program would be less vulnerable to the whims of the stock markets than an individual worker's 401(k) plan would be.

The native of Houston, who spent most of his childhood in New York State, is under no illusion that the battle against Clinton will be easy and that his ideas will be a quick sell. But, he has faced uphill battles before. After completing his degree in political science at the University of California at Los Angeles, he spent the early 1980s organizing the Los Angeles chapter of the National Writers Union, which represents freelance writers. After moving back to New York in 1985, Tasini worked for the local chapter of the union and was its president from 1990 to 2003. He most recently has been attempting to organize hotel workers on a national level.

As president of the NWU, Tasini took on the New York Times Co., Time Inc., Lexis/Nexis and others in a case involving the electronic archiving of freelancers' work. The Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that the publishers committed copyright infringement when they resold freelance newspaper and magazine articles via electronic databases without asking permission or making additional payments to the original authors. The ruling led to a series of class-action suits which resulted in the creation of an $18 million compensation fund for the freelancers.

Tasini is bringing the same underdog spirit to his campaign for the Senate. "I am excited about the reaction to our campaign," he said, noting that more than 100 volunteers have joined his team since he announced his candidacy in December. He knows he will not have the backing of the Democratic Party, but says he expects to attract voters who are unhappy with what the party has had to offer in recent years.

Tasini said he has garnered attention with his anti-war stance but his support goes beyond the Iraqi conflict. "Young people are concerned about the direction of the country," he said. "So while they feel the war itself is a terrible thing, they see it as a reflection of the way things are going in general."

By Ron Vallo - NYPols Editor/Writer

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